Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Federal Agency Could Use More Gun Control

The government expects average Americans to keep close tabs on our personal firearms, lest sloppiness lead to thefts, accidents or guns finding their way into the wrong hands. But how carefully does the federal government keep track of its firearms?

Not very carefully, according to this just-released report by the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Interior, which identified a number of problems with how the agency stored and accounted for weapons. While investigators didn't identify any specific cases in which federal firearms ended up in the wrong hands, or made their way to the black market, the lax management it describes at some agency weapons caches raises the possibility that this occurs.

Average citizens who handled their personal firearms in this way might be accused of reckless endangerment, or at least be called irresponsible. But when the federal government is involved, it's business as usual.

Here are some key experts from the IG report:

"All bureaus have policies and procedures designed to control and safeguard property that are generally consistent with Department standards and other federal regulations. Despite these policies and procedures, we found that most DOI law enforcement programs could not accurately account for their cached firearms. Inventories were found to be inaccurate and those responsible for firearms accountability did not always follow established procedures for conducting periodic inventories or reporting and investigating missing firearms. We found 373 inventory discrepancies out of the 1,334 firearms we physically handled. These discrepancies include: firearms listed on inventories but not present; firearms present, but not listed on inventories; and administrative errors such as lost and unprocessed paperwork or transposition errors. Consequently, the Department cannot accurately account for the number of law enforcement firearms it has or where those firearms are actually located."

"We discovered inconsistencies in the diligence paid to firearms inventories at most National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) locations we visited. During a review of the NWRS armory at FLETC, where approximately 400 weapons were stored, we found that the NWRS had not conducted an official inventory for over two years. NWRS belatedly conducted an inventory of those weapons in response to our data request. When questioned about the lack of annual inventories, the NWRS official responsible for those firearms said “you’re not going to like what I’m about to say” and confessed that he has refused to conduct the required inventories because of inaccurate inventory reports he received from NWRS headquarters. We learned that prior to his assignment to FLETC, a paid student intern had been given responsibility for firearms after a past firearms custodian had been relieved of his responsibilities.

When we compared the NWRS armory firearms inventory that was certified on April 2, 2009, to our April 20, 2009 physical inventory of those firearms, we discovered over 100 firearms that were not in the armory as indicated in the official inventory records. We also found several firearms on the inventory were listed as assigned to personnel who had retired in 2004, as well as other firearms that had been assigned to personnel who had resigned and now works for the Department of Homeland Security. Firearms that had been documented elsewhere as destroyed were still listed on current inventories."

What the IG found at New York Field Office of the U.S. Park Police was troubling.

"Our findings at the U.S. Park Police (USPP) New York Field Office (NYFO) further highlighted our concerns over disconcerting attitudes towards firearms accountability and security. Original property receipts were stored in a plastic bag, abandoned and personal weapons were intermixed with government-owned firearms, and gun safes containing a silenced machine gun and other firearms were unlocked. An unknown number of keys had been issued to the firearms storage area, firearms custodians were unaware of the number of guns in their inventory or their origin, and guns physically present were not listed on the inventory.

Three weapons originally purchased in 1993 (two of which were never used), and which are now obsolete, were reported as missing. They were subsequently discovered at the abandoned USPP firearms range during the course of our assessment. USPP could not tell us when those guns were last inventoried or had been physically seen.arms.

Upon discovering the physical conditions of the NYFO armory and the management of their firearms, we notified the USPP Chief about our observations. The chief subsequently ordered an investigation be conducted regarding the three missing weapons. He also ordered the armory moved to a more appropriate location under new supervision, a complete audit of the firearms property management function, and inventory of all weapons. The deputy chief confirmed that these tasks had been completed . . ."

. . . Two assault weapons located in NYFO firearms storage closet.

A senior law enforcement executive who has spent 30 years in NWRS told us he knows that refuges “squirrel” away firearms. In another case, we discovered two assault weapons stored in the NYFO firearms storage closet that were not listed on the official inventory. Both weapons were labeled “safe keeping private owner abandoned.” We received two conflicting accounts about how these weapons came into USPP custody when we questioned the office’s firearms custodians about those weapons. One explained that they had been turned in approximately 18 years ago by a private citizen after the assault weapons ban went into effect. The other told us that the weapons had been seized as evidence during a criminal investigation but were no longer needed. Neither firearms custodian could tell us why the weapons were still being stored."

Not every weapons cache the IG visited was badly managed, thankfully. But enough were to make one wonder whether similar conditions exist inside other federal agencies -- and to make one think that there's a good deal of hypocrisy in the constant lecturing about firearm safety that average citizens get from government officials. Government officials often are leading the cheers for more gun control for the rest of us. Maybe they need a little more of their own.

Here's a final salvo from the IG's report:

All Departmental law enforcement programs require that missing or stolen assigned firearms be immediately reported and investigated. The Department also requires that all missing firearms be reported to the Office of Law Enforcement and Security (OLES) through Serious Incident Reporting procedures. Despite these requirements, we found that weapons missing from firearms caches are handled differently and are less likely to be reported as missing or investigated. Instead of handling missing cache firearms the same as a missing assigned firearm, in most cases, missing cache firearms discovered during annual property inventories are simply treated as inventory discrepancies or paperwork errors. It is not until the firearms inventory is completed and supporting documents are reviewed, sometimes days or months later, that a weapon may be considered missing and reported as such.

How missing firearms are reported varies among bureaus and their individual office locations. In most cases, the person responsible for maintaining the firearms inventory is also the person responsible for reporting missing weapons. Many individuals we interviewed could only describe procedures used to investigate missing weapons in general terms. Concerns over the inherit dangers that these missing firearms pose to public safety should necessitate a sense of urgency for bureaus to make every effort to locate missing weapons; however, we found some cases where bureaus did not always report, or report in a timely manner, missing firearms. We found that in some cases, missing weapons are merely reported to a Board of Survey with little or no documentation and then requested to be removed from an office’s inventory. In other cases, criminal or administrative investigations of the missing firearm are conducted depending on the circumstances of the loss. In many cases nothing is done, and the weapons remain on the inventory for weeks or even years without any action being taken. The Department’s inventory process exacerbates this problem by failing to provide a mechanism for more frequent inventories or timely entries into property management systems."

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